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on this day the actor James Dean
narrowly survived a car crash.
Born February 8, 1931, James Dean grew to become America's favorite Bad
Boy of the 1950s and '60s. A popular, though mediocre, high school
student, he left his aunt's farm in Indiana where he had been sent to live
after his mother's death of cancer and moved to California. He first
enrolled at Santa Monica College in pre-law, then transferred to UCLA to
study drama. Acting would hold him the rest of his life.
He beat out hundreds of other actors to play Malcolm in Macbeth, which
spurred him to drop of out college and act full time. After a few
commercials and walk-on roles in Hollywood, he moved to New York where he
came into method acting at the Actors Studio. He worked in television and
theater, which led to his return to Hollywood for the role of Cal Trask in
East of Eden. The film would be a tremendous success, which was only to be
overshadowed by Rebel Without a Cause. 1956 would give Dean another
break-out role in Giant, which would win him an Academy Award with his
willingness to portray Jett the oil tycoon as older with gray, receding
"I rememebr reading that TWO great actors died in
that crash. James Dean, of course, but also with the fiercest competition
removed, Marl;on Brando started getting sloppy in his work, and moreso in
his personal life, with hi sprivate island and sometimes bizarre behavior."
- reader's comment
During the filming of Giant, Dean would
experience what he called "one of the spookiest things" in his life. In
addition to acting, he had become a great racing enthusiast. He traded for
a 550 Porsche Spyder, one of only ninety made, which was nicknamed "Little
Bastard". Customized by George Barris of Batmobile fame, the car had
tartan seating, striped wheelwells, and its name painted on its sleek
silver. He was so proud of the car that he showed it off to Alec Guinness
immediately upon meeting the great actor. Guinness said that a "strange
thing" came over him with an "almost different voice" telling Dean, "'If
you get in that car, you will be found dead in it by this time next week".
"And what happens to Clint Eastwood in this
timeline? It looks as if Dean edges him oout for some of his most famous
roles. " - reader's comments
Dean had never been one for taking
advice from his elders (such as the rift in his relationship with his
father when he had given up the idea of law school), but Guinness's words
seemed to sink in. The next week he was headed to Salinas, CA, for a
sports car race. At the last moment, he decided that he ought to drive the
brand-new car to familiarize himself with it rather that put it in a
trailer. Just before getting into the car, he thought of Guinness and
decided against it. Near Cholame, a Ford Tudor took a fork at speed and
buzzed directly in front of the truck pulling the trailer, nearly throwing
them off the road. Dean imagined that if he had been driving, he would
have been in the Ford's path, and Guinness's words would have come true.
"Of course, he could have been another
flash-in-the-pan, or have gone as far off the rails as Brando did." -
While at the race, Dean sold the Spyder, saying he
didn't believe in curses but that he'd "rather not risk it". Later in his
life, Dean would become an enthusiast for racing as well as car safety.
While against Nixon's lowering of speed limits on interstate highways,
Dean was a great component for safety belt laws and innovations in airbags
and retardant foams. He is famous for his public service announcement
repeating his ad-libbed line, "The life you might save might be mine".
Dean would act in 44 movies over his illustrious career. He would be known
for his roles in The Magnificent Seven, Cool Hand Luke, Hang 'em High,
and, perhaps most famously, Easy Rider. Other films would pit him against
Marlon Brando, another famous bad boy, with him gaining the role of
militaristic Colonel Kurtz in Apocalypse Now, but losing out for Jor-El,
Superman's father, though Dean would return as General Zod for the sequel.
His final role would be as the aged Ed Bloom in Tim Burton's Big Fish,
which critics said gave an extra layer of distrust to the father's tales,
further darkening the film.
In 2006, at age 75, Dean repurchased his Porsche 550 and took it for a
drive. It was found by a patrolman on an early morning at a scenic
overpass with Dean inside. The actor had died of a stroke but reportedly
had a smile on his face.